Meaningful Use: Where Are We Now?

The proposed new rules for Stage Three of Meaningful Use aim to give providers more flexibility, while paving the way for better information sharing through interoperability among EMRs.

In 2009, the HITECH Act became the law of the land, with the lofty goals of not only making electronic medical records (EMRs) ubiquitous, but to have them used in ways that lead to better care, delivered more efficiently – in other words, meaningful use. The act provided for billions of dollars in incentive payments for providers and hospitals who could demonstrate their meaningful use of electronic records, as defined by a series of guidelines set by the federal government. These guidelines were designed to be implemented in three distinct stages, with the first stage focused on getting providers and hospitals to purchase and start using the systems, while each of the other two stages required a higher level of EMR use.

We are currently still in Stage Two of Meaningful Use and, by some metrics, the program can be considered a success. Back in 2008, research showed that only 17 percent of doctors and 9 percent of hospitals were using an EMR. By the end of 2013, those numbers had jumped dramatically: more than 50 percent of physicians and 60 percent of hospitals were using an EMR at some level.

New guidelines for Stage Three were proposed this spring and are expected to be clarified and finalized by the fall. This stage will begin in 2017 with eight key objectives. The federal government has decided to simplify the program, relieving providers of some of the burden of measuring and reporting on certain benchmarks, while giving them more flexibility in how they go about accomplishing the objectives. The objectives in Stage Three relate mainly to ensuring data security, adopting clinical decision support, prescribing medications electronically, and sharing data electronically not only with other providers but with patients as well.

The guidelines on electronic data sharing are expected to drive interoperability among electronic medical records, allowing for the free flow of health data between systems as well as the incorporation of patient-generated data. The goal is for a patient’s data to follow him wherever it is needed, across organizations, IT vendors, and geographic boundaries.

Nurses will be essential to furthering Meaningful Use objectives. As frontline caregivers, they are instrumental in documenting patient data and using standardized care pathways to improve patient safety and outcomes. Healthcare is currently in need of nurses who can analyze technologies from both the bedside and IT perspectives, to help the industry use EMRs in ways that allow care to be delivered more efficiently. As Stage Three of Meaningful Use rolls out, the industry will need nurse informaticians who can help integrate data sharing into current workflows. Are you a tech-savvy nurse? An online MSN degree in nursing informatics is the perfect way to improve your knowledge, skills, and value to your organization. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees.